Classical Music | Violin Music

György Kurtág

String Quartet Op. 28 Officium Breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky  Play

Sarah Christian Violin
Jenny Ahn Violin
Kim Kashkashian Viola
Tony Rymer Cello

Recorded on 06/29/2012, uploaded on 09/22/2012

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

String Quartet Op. 28 Officium Breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky

I.     Largo
II.    Più andante
III.   Sostenuto, quasi giusto
IV.  Grave, molto sostenuto
V.   (Fantasie über die Harmonien des Webern-Kanons). Presto
VI.   (Canon a 4). Molto agitato
VII.   Canon a 2 (frei nach op. 31/VI. Von Webern). Sehr fließend
VIII.  Lento
IX.    Largo
X.     (Webern: Canon a 4 (op. 31/VI)). Sehr Fließend
Xa.   A Tempo (X Da Capo al fine)
XI.    Sostenuto
XII.   Sostenuto, quasi giusto
XIII.  Sostenuto, con slancio
XIV. Disperato, vivo
XV.  Arioso interrotto (di Endre Szervánszky). Larghetto

Endre Szervánszky (b. Kistétény, December 27, 1911 - d. Budapest, June 25, 1977) was a Hungarian composer.

Szervánszky studied the clarinet at the Budapest Academy of Music (1922–7). He played in various orchestras before returning to the academy to study composition with Albert Siklós (1931–6). He then worked as an orchestrator for the Hungarian Radio and taught musical theory. He was appointed professor of composition at the Budapest Academy in 1948.

Szervánszky first came to public attention with his First String Quartet (1936–8) and his works of this period were influenced by his compatriots, Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. Works for this time include the Clarinet Serenade (1950) and the Flute Concerto (1952–3).

From the early 1950s Szervánszky embarked on a series of larger compositions, one of the longest being the Concerto for Orchestra in memory of Attila József. Each of the concerto’s five movements is based on a quotation from József. The fourth has folk music elements and the whole demonstrates the influence of Bartók. Both the String Quartet no.2 (1956–7) and the Wind Quintet no.2 (1957) also demonstrate the composer’s increasing interest in serialism.

For his Six Orchestra Pieces, composed in 1959, Szervánszky employed 12-note serialism and the piece is particular in its use of percussion. Szervánszky did not compose another major work until 1963 – the oratorio Requiem, based on a text by János Pilinszky which takes the concentration camp of Auschwitz as its theme. Works which followed include the Variations (1964) and the Clarinet Concerto (1965).

Endre Szervánszky was given the "Righteous among the Nations" award by the State of Israel to honour non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

He is the brother of artist, Jenö Szervánszky, violinst, Peter Szervánszky and the uncle of Valeria Szervánszky.


György Kurtág completed Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky opus 28 in 1989. It is a string quartet in 15 concise movements and about eleven and a half minutes in duration. The composer required over ten years to come up with enough material for another string quartet; his last one was completed in 1978, and every tiny movement should be heard with great care. It is music that eschews development in favor of brief communications of atmosphere, which are more potent than many listeners may have realized possible. Kurtág is in many ways developing the ideas of Webern in his own music, taking some of the Austrian master's discoveries further just as Webern had done with the work of his former teacher Schoenberg. Webern had managed to successfully free the atonal and twelve-tone methods of the outmoded methods of writing. This crystallization of the language created a completely new and contracted dramatic curve. Kurtág takes this process further, realizing the impact of this direction, and effectively eliminates the dramatic curve. In its place is a hyper-intensification of the moment, so that he requires just enough time to demonstrate an idea that is so powerful that there is nothing left to be done with it once it has been heard. For many listeners, this innovation takes some time to absorb. Because no one else writes in this manner, there is no blueprint for writing one of these tiny "microludes," which is perhaps why it takes the composer so long to conceive of enough of them to constitute a complete piece of music. There is a finite amount of ways of distributing sounds among four instruments for a few moments, and to use this near non-arsenal to make especially effective bursts of sound requires genius. Beautiful moments in the standard quartet catalog are too many to count, but until Kurtág came along, the beauty of these moments required a great deal of context in order to make them significant. Just as a critical unveiling of a fact in a novel or film is given impact by the situation surrounding it, music has traditionally worked upon itself to give the subsequent moment value. This composer has done something different; he has injected the context, the significance, into the initial moment of its demonstration. Only the American composer Feldman has done something comparable, but his works demonstrate a similar point over a great deal of time, and are the result of completely separate, New World musical investigations. Kurtág is through-and-through Middle European. He continues the traditions of Webern and Bartók. Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky opus 28 is a masterpiece of European music, as completely original and compelling as those who wrote memorable works from previous centuries. It is new for its time and completely grounded in the progress of the musical canon.

The operative word for this music is intense. There is something desperate and political about the sound, which allows itself to burst through for only a moment. No self-pity, no request or overt yearning is heard; it is simply too grave for that, demonstrating a clenched dignity that knows too well that violently thrashing about will not came the outcome of something terrible. It is the courageous nature of this self-possession that ennobles humanity during its darkest hour, the least easily publicized form of valor. Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky opus 28 shows us what quiet strength is made of, and is among the most inspiring quartets of its age.   (by John Keillor, from

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